Stray Dog (1949)

Genres - Thriller  |   Sub-Genres - Police Detective Film, Urban Drama  |   Release Date - Oct 17, 1949 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 122 min.  |   Countries - Japan   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Craig Butler

A stunning piece of international film noir, Stray Dog is a superb early effort of the legendary Akira Kurosawa. Coming just before Rashomon, the film that would establish the director's name and standing worldwide, Dog is one of his lesser known works but worthy of its place in the top of his pantheon. Yes, there are some quibbles. Dog is a tad too long. It lacks the sweep and grandeur of Kurosawa's epics. It occasionally repeats itself. But these are minor flaws in a major work. Besides, any film that contains the amazing nine-minute, almost dialogue-free montage of the underworld of postwar Tokyo, filmed surreptitiously and using many unsuspecting "real" people rather than actors and edited with impeccable precision, would be worth any number of flaws. And there are other impressive moments, including an lovely moment in which the beautiful nighttime vista suddenly intrudes glowingly upon the lead character and the girl he wants to help him, or the final chase section, in which one realizes that all of the tension that has been built up and released in the preceding 100 minutes has only been an exercise in preparation for the unbearable tension of this climax. But Kurosawa is not working strictly from a technical standpoint. He has created characters that bear deeper examination and provide unexpected rewards, and has placed them in a story that allows him to probe the necessity of choices, the effect of society on criminality and the state of the Japanese psyche in 1949. He's aided by a dead-on cast, lead by the perfect Toshiro Mifune and Takashi Shimura. Mifune, young and hungry, is tightly coiled in Dog, a complicated mass of insecurity and bravado. Shimura plays the older and wiser partner as a living person, avoiding the clich├ęs that are so often part of such characters. They are matchless performances in a dazzling film.